Thursday: 32nd Rootabaga premieres with Knox Faculty combo
By Sheena Leano
It was standing room only by 8:30 p.m. at McGillacuddy’s on the first day of the Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival on Thursday, March 29.
With the Knox Faculty and Friends Combo jamming away, festival attendees turned their attention away from their drinks to listen to the band, which featured Knox music instructors, like Dave Hoffman and Todd Kelly from Bradley University. Larry Harms, former teacher of Director of the Knox Jazz Ensemble Nikki Malley, played tenor saxophone.
Directed by Steve Jackson ’89, the combo played clean notes in their first set. At one section, where it was just the piano, bass and drums playing, some listeners bobbed their heads to the side with the music, as the bass added a bouncing rhythm. Next, the vibraphone layered a bright accent. Another highlight was a tune that was faster paced with notes racing up and down. They played away to a great opening night of the Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival.
Friday features alumni, Ted Sirota
By Katy Sutcliffe
The second night of the 32nd Annual Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival kicked off with a bang with the Knox Alumni Big Band. Made up entirely of alumni, many of whom have played together in the past, the band has only one rehearsal prior to their performance. However, this fact certainly didn’t diminish the quality of their performance.
“I thought it was really stellar,” senior Aisha Mergaert said of the alumni band. She particularly enjoyed getting to hear from recent graduates who have played at Knox in the past few years.
“The saxophone section was very, very strong,” junior Jake Hawrylak said. He also appreciated how much time each individual performer received.
“They do a lot of fairly easy things and then they just kind of open it up to solos,” he said. “And improv [is] one of the biggest components to jazz.”
The alumni band was followed by a performance from Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls, a five-person band that played jazz with influences ranging from reggae to ska to Eastern European music.
“Ted’s group was … definitely one of the stronger points,” Hawrylak said. “These guys were very smart about what they did. I liked their diversity.”
The group brought a fast, upbeat feel to their music. Some students, however, were disappointed by the performance.
“I did like last year’s better,” senior Rachel Lyman said. “The performance last year was so interactive with the audience and I didn’t feel that connection this year.”
Both bands played to a packed house on Friday. McGillicuddy’s was overflowing for much of the evening, filled with a crowd that was a mix of Galesburg residents, Knox students, staff, faculty and alumni. Beyond the jazz, this was probably one of the most enjoyable features of the evening, which successfully created an event with a true community feel.
Saturday at Orpheum enthuses audience
By Maddie Davis
Rootabaga’s performance literally lit up the Orpheum Theatre, featuring the Knox Jazz Ensemble (KJE) and the Noah Preminger Group on Saturday, March 31. The KJE showed the range of their talents with selections from lilting, upbeat big band, to driving Latin pieces, to an ethereal and dreamy cover of Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place.”
Seniors Josh Garties and Zach Lawrence stole the show with superb tenor saxophone and trombone solos, respectively, and one glance around the Orpheum would show you bobbing heads, dancing kids and a laid-back, swinging attitude.
The Noah Preminger Group, featuring Preminger on tenor sax, Frank Kimbrough on piano, Linda Oh on upright bass and Galesburg’s own Matt Wilson on drums, took a much less traditional route, with complex rhythms and melodies. Wilson is a true showman, with a permanent grin and his tongue wagging, and in stark contrast, Preminger stands still — if you aren’t watching closely, you can hardly tell he’s breathing into his instrument.
In the standout ballad “Morgantown,” written by Preminger, the group played drawling, fresh tones, communicating with each other through glances and nods. The group was just as fun to watch as they were to listen to and such remarkable musicians coming together at once is a rare gift.
In an address to the audience, Knox Jazz Ensemble director Nikki Malley expressed a similar gratitude for the opportunity to see such talented and diverse performers in one weekend, saying, “What happens at Rootabaga is special.”